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BFG's GeForce FX 5900XT OC
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Date: Jun 24, 2004
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction and Specifications

Our first look at the GeForce FX 5900XT was way back in December 2003, and we were mightily impressed by the performance of the original sample sent to us by e-VGA, one of Nvidia's launch partners. We've reviewed a few other 5900XTs since then, and we've recently received two new models, one of which was the card we took a look at last week, Prolink's Pixelview 5900XT Golden Limited.  Its main claim to fame was the one-piece aluminum housing which cools the GPU and RAM, allowing for better cooling and ample overclocked speeds. It also came with the Plasma Display II, a handy little screen which gives users real time information on the GPU temperature and fan speed.

Today, we've got a different take on the 5900XT with BFG's GeForce FX 5900XT OC. It may or may not be obvious, but the "OC" in this case stands for overclocked. Knowing full well that some users may balk at messing around with registry hacks or other methods of overclocking their hardware, BFG has offered up a card that already comes pre-clocked at higher speeds than other 5900XT models. Oh, and one other thing, BFG maintains a lifetime warranty on the card at these higher speeds. In doing so, they've taken away all of the worry and hassle that the first-time buyer or less-experienced upgrader might have when wondering "should I get this card and how hard can I push it?". Is this bump in speed going to be enough to warrant the purchase of the BFG GeForce FX 5900XT OC, or will this just be another bump in the road? Let's find out by checking the card's specifications first. While the majority of these items look the same as what we've seen with other 5900XTs (including the Pixelview 5900XT), we've highlighted important changes in red.

     

Specifications of the BFG 5900XT OC
A New twist on an "old" thing
SPECIFICATIONS
  • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900XT
  • Graphics Core: 256-bit
  • Engine clock:430 MHz
  • Memory Interface: 256-bit DDR
  • Memory Bandwidth:23.5 GB/sec
  • Vertices per second: 322 million
  • Memory Clock:367.5 MHz
  • Memory Data Rate (effective):735 MHz
  • Memory Included: 128MB Hynix 2.8ns DDR
  • Maximum Memory Supported: 256MB
  • Pixels per Clock: 8
  • Textures per Rendering Pass: 16
  • Maximum Resolution: 2048x1536@85Hz
  • Thermal solution: Single-slot, 5000rpm heatsink/fan
  • 0.13 Micron Process Technology

2D/3D FEATURES

  • NVIDIA CineFX 2.0 Engine
  • NVIDIA Intellisample HCT Engine
  • NVIDIA UltraShadow Technology
  • MicrosoftDirectX9.0 Shader Optimizations and Support
  • OpenGL1.4 Optimizations and Support
  • AGP 8X/4X including Fast Writes and sideband addressing
  • Integrated Dual400MHz RAMDACs
  • 128-bit, studio-precision color
  • Support for 128/64-bit floating point and 32-bit integer rendering modes
OTHER FEATURES
  • Architected for Cg
  • 64-phase Video Scaler
  • nView Multi-display Technology
  • NVIDIA Video Mixing Renderer (VMR)
  • NVIDIA Digital Vibrance Control (DVC) 3.0
  • True-color 64x64 hardware cursor with alpha
  • Optimized for 32, 24, 16, 15, and 8-bpp modes
  • Multi-Buffering (Double, Triple, and Quad modes)
  • Integrated Full Hardware MPEG-2 Decoder
  • DirectX and S3TC texture compression
  • Unified Driver Architecture (UDA)
     




BFG GEFORCE FX 5900 XT OC
CORE CLOCK: 430 MHz
MEMORY CLOCK: 735 MHz
MEMORY BANDWIDTH: 23.5 GB/s


 

        

BFG has both giveth and taketh away with the GeForce FX 5900XT OC.  The box that we received felt somewhat lighter than other recent cards, and opening the box we quickly found out why. Along with the card, we found only a MOLEX power cable splitter, used to divert power to the card's connector, a DVI-to-VGA converter, and a Quick Install Guide with requisiite CD-ROM.  One might have expected that a company that touts itself as "for gamers by gamers" might have actually included a game, but that was not to be the case. On the other hand, the installation CD was a bit more robust than others, with a complete suite of drivers, DirectX 9, Nvidia's own DVD software and Demos, as well as some BFG customized WinBlinds and skins. If you've ever seen stills from Dawn or Vulcan demos in the past, then here's your chance to finally see them in live action.

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A Closer Look / Screenshots
Closer inspection of the BFG GeForce FX 5900XT OC
Twitching for something new

        

        
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

Much like the bundle, the card itself was stream-lined, containing only the basics. We've got a standard green PCB, with brushed aluminum heatsinks over the 2.8ns Hynix memory.  All of the memory chips are found on the front side of the card, leaving the backside completely bare. The heatsink/fan placed over GPU is rated at 5000 rpm, is also constructed of the same brushed aluminum as the heatsinks, and comes adorned with BFG's mascot, Twitch. On the bracket, we found the typical connectors for VGA, S-Video, and a DVI port for digital connections. At the opposite end, there was a four pin MOLEX connector used to power the card. By and large, there's not much that differentiates the appearance of this card from other manufacturers. 

        

Removal of the heatsink from the GPU is quick and easy, requiring that two retention pins be pinched and pulled free of the holes on the card. Underneath, we found a healthy amount of silicone-based thermal paste.  After a little clean-up, we see the 5900XT in all its glory. By itself, the fan doesn't look to be anything special; it's thin, with fins that encapsulate the fan in the middle, and puts out very little noise. We might have expected something bulkier considering the card is already overclocked, and thus running hotter than normal, but BFG has faith in the heatsink/fan provided. Of course, should this card fail somewhere down the road, BFG will replace the card under their lifetime warranty.

Some quality screen shots
Look what's back in the labs

Benchmark numbers aren't the only way to compare graphics cards, comparing their image quality is just as important.  The operative word here is graphics, and what good is the fastest card if the quality isn't up to the same standards as the competition?   We took some screen captures of Unreal Tournament 2004, with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.  For a more exhaustive comparison between the 5900XT and it's rival, the 9600XT, please check out this link: http://hothardware.com/viewarticle.cfm?articleid=438.
Unreal Tournament 2004 Screen shots 
No AA 2x AA
4x AA 4x AA + Aniso

The Unreal series of games is known for the hectic game play and the outstanding graphics. It was a bit of a challenge, however, to find the kind of scene we were looking for until we came across a swinging skylight during the single player session. What makes this area perfect for comparisons is the juxtaposition of the beams on the ceiling and cross-sections of the skylight window, as well as the hanging branch. Without any driver optimizations, the beams and especially the branch suffer from "jaggies" - jagged lines where the graphic edges are sloped. Zoom in on the mid-section of the branch for best results. Enabling Anti-aliasing in the driver's control panel smoothes out these jagged edges so that at 4x AA we're looking at much cleaner lines throughout.  Applying some Anisotropic Filtering further cleans up the image.  It brings out some detail that might not be normally be missed such as the textures in the stone bricks along the sides.

 

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Testing Setup / Aquamark and Halo Benchmarks

 

HotHardware's Testing Setup
Where it all begins

We tested these cards on an i865PE "Springdale" based Asus P4P800 Deluxe motherboard, powered by an Intel Pentium 4 2.4CGHz CPU (800MHz System Bus).  The first thing we did when configuring this test system was enter the BIOS and load the "High Performance Defaults".  Then we set the memory to operate at 200MHz (Dual DDR400) with the CAS Latency and other memory timings set by SPD and the AGP aperture size set to 256MB. The hard drive was formatted and Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1 was installed.  After the installation completed, we installed the latest Intel chipset drivers and then hit the Windows Update site to download and install all of the available updates. Next, we installed all of the necessary drivers for the rest of our components and Windows Messenger was disabled and removed from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were also disabled, the hard drive was de-fragmented, and a 768MB permanent page file was created. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance", installed all of the benchmarking software and ran all of the tests.

Video Cards Tested:

BFG 5900XT OC (128MB)
e-VGA GeForce FX 5900XT (128MB)
Chaintech GFFX 5700 Ultra (128MB)
ATi Radeon 9600XT (128MB)

Benchmarks Used:

Aquamark3
Halo v1.031
Unreal Tournament 2004
Splinter Cell - Oil Rig Demo
Final Fantasy XI v2.0
Far Cry
Comanche 4 Demo
Wolfenstein - Enemy Territory

Common System Hardware:

Asus P4P800 Deluxe (i865PE) Motherboard
Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz CPU / 800MHz FSB
512MB (256MB x2) Kingston HyperX PC3500 DDR
Western Digital 20GB Hard Drive
Lite-On 16X DVD-ROM

 

Software / System Drivers:

Windows XP Professional Service Pack 1
DirectX 9.0b
Intel Chipset Software, v5.1.1.1002
ATi Catalyst Drivers, v4.6
NVIDIA ForceWare Drivers, v61.34

Performance Comparisons With Aquamark 3
DX8 and DX9 Shaders

Aquamark 3
Aquamark 3 comes to us by way of Massive Development. Massive's release of the original Aquanox in 1999 wasn't very well received by the gaming community, but it was one of the first games to implement DX8 class shaders, which led to the creation of Aquamark 2 - a benchmark previously used by many analysts. Since the Aquamark benchmarks are based on an actual game engine, they must support old and new video cards alike. Thus, the latest version of Aquamark, Aquamark 3, utilizes not only DirectX 9 class shaders, but DirectX 8 and DirectX 7 as well. We ran this benchmark at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1600x1200 with no anti-aliasing, and again with 4x AA.

As we have already tested the Pixelview 5900XT model just a week prior, we will pretty much know what to expect with the majority of these benchmarks. By the same token, it would be safe to say that we will generally expect that BFG's version of the 5900XT that comes pre-overclocked to 430MHz/735MHz will outperform the standard model by some degree. So, without further ado, our first benchmark, AquaMark 3 gave us predictable results. The two 5900XT models are at the fore-front, with the 9600XT and 5700 Ultra trailing behind. In all instances, BFG's card came out about 7-8% higher than the stock e-VGA model, which falls in line directly with the 7.5% increase in speed.

Benchmarks With Halo
Halo - All Patched & Ready To Go!

Halo
For many gamers, the release of Halo marked the end of a long wait, since it was originally released as an Xbox exclusive a few years back. No additional patches or tweaks are needed to benchmark with Halo, as Gearbox has included all of the necessary information in their README file. The Halo benchmark runs through four of the cut-scenes from the game, after which the average frame rate is recorded. We patched the game using the latest v1.031 patch and ran this benchmark twice, once at 1024x768 and then again at 1280x1024. Anti-aliasing doesn't work properly with Halo at the moment, so all of the test below were run with anti-aliasing disabled.

Our look at Halo offered up pretty much the same results; 5900XT models at the top, the other two cards battling it out for third place. ATi has actually made some strides with the new Catalyst 4.6 drivers, increasing performance slightly than what we've seen in the past, and enabling it to take a 9-10% lead over the 5700 Ultra. In the battle for the top spot, we've got the BFG 5900XT OC over the e-VGA 5900XT by 3 frames at 1024x768 and just over a frame at 1600x1200. The percentage difference was right on at 7.5% for the first benchmark, but slipped slightly to only over 3% at the higher resolution. 

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Testing with Unreal Tournament 2004 and Splinter Cell
Head-to-Head Performance With Unreal Tournament 2004
Epic's Next Smash Hit!

Unreal Tournament 2K4
Epic's "Unreal" games have been wildly popular, ever since the original Unreal was released in the late '90s. Unreal, Unreal Tournament, and then Unreal Tournament 2003, rapidly became some of our favorites, for both benchmarking, and for killing a few hours when our schedules allowed it! Epic recently released the latest addition to the franchise, Unreal Tournament 2004. We used the demo version of the game to benchmark these cards at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1600x1200, without any anti-aliasing, with 4x AA, and with 4X AA and 8X anisotropic filtering.

Each card that we tested performed well at 1024x768, and although the three GeForce FX based cards were usually in the lead, it was the 9600XT that stood alone at 4xAA with Aniso enabled, besting even the 5900XT OC. At 1600x1200, we saw more of a gap between the cards, as the 5900XTs pulled away from the other two. We also saw a huge increase of the BFG 5900XT OC over the e-VGA 5900XT at 4xAA. The 5 plus frames equaled a 20% increase in performance in this test. We saw more realistic differences in the other two tests, however.

Performance Comparisons With Splinter Cell
Stealthy Combat

Splinter Cell
Splinter Cell's version 1.2 patch includes three pre-recorded demos and incorporates a previously unavailable benchmarking tool. The demos included with the patch are somewhat limited by CPU performance, however, so we opted for the custom Oil Rig demo created by the folks at Beyond 3D to test with this game. Beyond 3D's demo removes two CPU intensive routines while increasing dependence on Pixel Shader performance. Shaders are used to render realistic looking ocean water surrounding an Oil Rig in the demo, as well as simulating a night vision effect for a brief period. Also note that anti-aliasing doesn't work with Splinter Cell. Due to this fact, we do not have any AA scores listed in the graphs below.

Splinter Cell is another benchmark in which we have seen a marked contrast to past reviews.  Whereas the 5700 Ultra and 9600XT used to be more on par, we now see the 5700 Ultra in a distant last place showing, with the 9600XT and 5900XT more or less neck and neck, at least at 1024x768.  The BFG model, however, gets an additional boost of 2 frames per second, thanks to its higher clock speeds.  At 1600x1200, the normally clocked e-VGA 5900XT is 2.6 frames faster than the 9600XT, which is then further surpassed by the overclocked BFG 5900XT OC by an additional 1.82 fps.

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Final Fantasy XI and Far Cry Comparisons
Performance Comparisons With Final Fantasy XI Benchmark 2 v1.01
A Classic Console Franchise On The PC

Final Fantasy XI
The Final Fantasy franchise is well known to console gamers, but Squaresoft has since made the jump to the PC with a MMORPG version of this classic. The Final Fantasy XI benchmark runs through multiple scenes from the game and displays a final score every time a full cycle of the demo is completed. Although the demo is meant the check an entire system's readiness to play the game, the number of frames rendered scales when different video cards are used. Lower scores indicate some frames were dropped to complete the demo in the allotted time. The scores below were taken with the demo set to its "High Resolution" option (1024x768), with anti-aliasing disabled.

ATI's 9600XT claimed the top spot in the Final Fantasy Benchmark, beating out the BFG 5900XT OC by 120 points.  It's odd to see this kind of change in performance, as we had seen 5900XTs, such as the e-VGA model, easily beat their rival by over 300 points using previous sets of drivers.   This may turn out to simply be an issue with the ForceWare 61.34 drivers that needs to be corrected, but for now the BFG 5900XT will have to settle for second place. 

Benchmarks and Comparisons With Far Cry
DX9 effects galore.

Far Cry
It almost goes without saying that Far Cry is easily one of the most impressive game and game engines to be released on the PC to date.  While we peer at leaked versions of Doom 3 and video clips of Half Life 2, Far Cry gives us a taste of what is to come in next generation 3D Gaming on the PC.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in our test, with a custom recorded demo run taken in the "Catacombs" area checkpoint, at various resolutions without AA or Aniso Filtering enabled and then with 4X AA and 8X Aniso.

The 5700 Ultra was left out in the cold here, unable to keep up with the 9600XT, and nevermind the 5900XTs.  In all of the tests, the e-VGA 5900XT kept a steady lead over the ATi 9600XT, but the extra speed that the BFG model comes with allowed pull ahead by a couple of frames per second.  Again, we're looking at anywhere between a 6-9% increase in performance in most cases, right out of the box.

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Final comparisons with Comanche 4 and Wolfenstein - Enemy Territory
Performance Comparisons With Novalogic's Comanche 4
Combat Helicopter Sim

Comanche 4
To give you sim fans a small taste of what these cards can do, we used Novalogic's combat helicopter simulator Comanche 4 for our next batch of DirectX tests. Comanche 4 uses DX8 class pixel and vertex shaders to produce some of the realistic visuals used throughout the game. Unlike some of the previous tests though, this benchmark is heavily influenced by CPU and system memory performance, especially at lower resolutions. However, when the resolution is raised and anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are enabled, the current crop of 3D accelerators tend to slow down quite a bit.

Due to the CPU limitations, we can see that we're close to maximizing the frame rates at 1024x768 with no AA, as the three GeForce FX cards finished within 0.4 frames per second of each other.  We'll need to tax the system a little bit more in order to get some meaningful results.  Adding some AA and anisotropic filtering causes the 9600XT to drop off considerably, but has much less of an effect on the rest of the cards, especially the BFG 5900XT OC.  At 1600x1200, we can begin to see a major decrease in performance with the 5700 Ultra and 9600XT, especially with the AA being applied.  The 5900XTs are still capable of putting up close to 40 fps at 4xAA, and between 32-35 fps with some additional filtering enabled. 

Benchmarks / Comparisons With Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
Q3 Engine Based Freebie

Wolfenstein: ET
We also ran through a batch of timedemos with the OpenGL game Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. Wolfenstein: ET is a free, standalone multi-player game that is based on the excellent Return to Castle Wolfenstein, that was released a few years back. It uses a heavily modified version of the Quake 3 engine, which makes it a very easy to use benchmarking tool. We created our own custom demo and used the built-in timedemo feature to check each card's frame-rate. The tests below were run at 1024x768 and again at 1600x1200, without anti-aliasing, with 4X AA, and lastly with 4X AA and 8X aniso enabled concurrently.

Before we wrap things up, we took another look at a DX8-class engine with Wolfenstein - Enemy Territory.  The GeForce FX cards seem to thrive on DX8 games, and we saw no exceptions here.  At 1024x768, Nvidia's cards were 1-2-3, from the BFG 5900XT OC down to the 5700 Ultra.  The 5900XT OC held it's ever so slight advantage over the e-VGA card in all but the 4xAA test at 1600x1200, where they were more memory bandwidth limited than anything else.

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Overclocking and Conclusion
Overclocking the BFG 5900XT OC
But, isn't that redundant?

Since the BFG 5900XT was already overclocked to some degree, it might seem odd that we would look to overclock it even further, but based on past results with this GPU we were confident that we could push this card's clock speeds quite a bit higher.  BFG doesn't provide any fancy software, but the Coolbits registry hack is quite easy to find, it works easily enough, and heck, it's free.  

We were able to get an additional boost of 45MHz to the GPU, as well as 40MHz on the memory.  It doesn't sound like a lot, but remember that this card already comes clocked at 430/735 instead of the standard 390/700.  As seen in the graph, e-VGA's 5900XT would be considered the base, scoring 16.27 fps in this benchmark.  Out of the box, BFG's 5900XT OC added an additional frame and a quarter in AquaMark 3, which was set at 4XAA and 4X Anisotropic Filtering (by default).  By overclocking this card even further, we were able to gain almost one more frame per second.  This related to a performance increase of 5.5 percent over the original score, and 13.5 percent over the e-VGA model at stock speeds.

 

For the purpose of this review, we'll finish off slightly different from our normal practice, but the ends will justify the means.  We're giving the BFG 5900XT OC an 8 on the HotHardware Heat Meter.

Now, we can hear you saying, how can we give this card, which good image quality and finished first in almost every benchmarks, an 8 out of 10 when we just gave Pixelview an 8.5?  First, we fully expected this card to beat out the other cards in the mid-range market - there's no surprise there.  Also, it comes overclocked right out of the box, meaning that all other things being equal, it's more powerful than any standard GeForce FX 5900XT.

Don't get us wrong, we fully appreciate having that extra horsepower under the hood without having to do any additional tinkering.  And less experienced users will probably appreciate it even more so...

But, that's where the goodies end.  Other than the pre-overclocked status of the BFG 5900XT OC's GPU and its lifetime warranty, there's not much else that differentiates the card from its competition.  There's no real software bundle, or extra cabling that complement the card's capabilities.  The card comes overclocked, but it really isn't too much of a chore to simply download Coolbits and raise the clock speed yourself.  The final coup d'grace is that a card that is labeled with "OC" in the title didn't actually overclock any higher than the Prolink Pixelview 5900XT we previously reviewed (480MHz to 475MHZ for the GPU).  Added to this bit of irony is the fact the BFG 5900XT OC actually costs more than the Pixelview 5900XT, and you begin to see our point.  The end result is a perfectly good card that will perform well for most users, but it's not necessarily the best option out there for the money.

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